My Turn: Education funding is once again front and center

For the Monitor
Published: 6/9/2019 12:10:16 AM

It is not a surprise to any legislator that New Hampshire has an education funding crisis. With 400 legislators serving in the House we are the most representative body in the world. We constantly hear from our constituents that their property taxes continue to rise, in trying to keep up with the state’s continuous underfunding of education.

It is often said that the budget is the most important document the Legislature works on every two years and I agree. Students and property-tax payers have suffered too long under the current education funding formula. Right now, we can make changes that will have a positive effect on all Granite Staters.

It has been more than 20 years since the landmark Claremont ruling that said the state of New Hampshire was not meeting its constitutional obligation to fund our public schools. The state made some strides in addressing education funding shortly after the decision was made. However, since 2011 the state of New Hampshire has continued to cut the amount of money sent to cities and towns for education, leaving local property-tax payers to foot the bill.

Earlier this year, in response to the state’s failures, four school districts sued the state again. This past week a judge once again ruled the state was not living up to its constitutional obligation. The judge tasked the Legislature with figuring out a new school funding formula. The House budget starts this process.

The House budget appropriates an additional $200 million over the governor’s budget proposal for education. We fully fund special education, transportation and building aid, and provide an additional $164 million dollars in education spending over the biennium. The additional education dollars will be distributed using a new formula that focuses on towns that need the most relief and will ensure that we start providing a quality education to all Granite State students, regardless of ZIP code.

Most of the money the House appropriated in its budget came from extending the interest and dividends tax to include capital gains, while excluding the sales of homes from capital gains. In addition, we added exemptions to the current interest and dividends tax, providing a tax cut for thousands of Granite State seniors. New Hampshire is one of only four states without a capital gains tax, and under our proposal 63% of people who will pay capital gains make over $500,000 a year. In a time when we know that everyday Granite Staters are struggling to make ends meet, it only makes sense to ask those who can do more to do more.

The last piece of the puzzle for the House budget is developing a long-term solution for funding our public schools. The House budget appropriates $500,000 for stakeholders to come together and jointly work out a long-term solution to the education funding crisis.

The House budget is a building block in this process that provides communities relief and begins the process for addressing this crisis for the long term. The people have told the Legislature to act and now so have the courts. It’s time to fix our education funding crisis for our students, for our taxpayers and for our communities.

(Rep. Mary Jane Wallner of Concord is the chair of the House Finance Committee.)


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